Code of Conduct complaints relating to activities directed at the general public 1 April 30 June 2011

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1 Code of Conduct complaints relating to activities directed at the general public 1 April 30 June 2011 The Medicines Australia Code of Conduct Edition 16 (Section 35.3) provides for the publication on the Medicines Australia website of information regarding complaints that involve activities directed towards members of the general public. Section 35.3 states that this information will include the following: a) The name of the company against which a complaint has been lodged b) The name of the complainant, where appropriate c) The product, behaviour, conduct and/or promotional material subject to complaint d) A summary of the complaint, response and deliberations of the Code of Conduct Committee e) The section of the Code, if any, which was breached and the reasons for finding the breach f) Any sanctions imposed for the breach The information shall be released following the exhaustion of all appeals procedures and the outcome of any appeal is known. Table of finalised complaints where activity directed at the general public 1 April 30 June 2011 No. Subject Company 1069 Roche Products 1070 Merck Serono Australia Material or Activity Product Complainant Outcomes Sanction Advertisement N/A Health care Professional News item Movectro Member of the General Public no breach of 1.1, 1.3, 12.6, 12.7, 12,7,7, 12.8 and 18 breach of no breach of 12.1, 12.3, 12.6, 12.7 and 18 Not applicable Fine $20,000 *The outcomes will also be published in the quarterly and annual Code reports. 1

2 Beat HepC Advertisement Subject Company: Roche Products Complainant: Health care Professional Product: N/A Complaint Dr Bruce Short submitted a letter of complaint to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in relation to an advertisement placed by Roche Products in the Sunday Telegraph s Body+Soul magazine, with the tagline I beat Hep C for my family. The complaint was forwarded by the TGA to Medicines Australia for adjudication. Dr Short alleges that the advertisement is overly emotive, misleading and confusing. Additionally, he alleges that Roche mislead the public by not acknowledging that they are suppliers of hepatitis C antivirals. Dr Short believes the advertisement to be distorted, incorrect and providing distorted and confusing information. Sections of the Code Materials alleged to be in breach of the following Sections of Edition 16 of the Code: 1.1: Nature and availability of information and claims 1.3: False or misleading claims 12.6: Educational information to the general public 12.7: Disease education activities in any media : Disease education activities in any media: Presence of pharmaceutical company name/logo in activity 12.8: Use of the internet 18: Discredit to an reduction of confidence in the industry Response Roche denied that the advertisement and associated website were in breach of the Code. Roche considers that the advertisement is a mechanism of a disease awareness campaign that points readers to the website. They contend that the website is balanced, informative and promotes awareness of all aspects of the disease and its management. Roche further note that a successful cure from hepatitis C is possible the disease can be completely overcome and this effect can be sustained. This is supported by publicly-available material using the word cure in the same context. Additionally, the emotive tone of the piece is not overt and is in line with disease awareness campaigns running in the community. Roche supported its response to the complaint with advice from hepatitis Australia that the use of the advertisement and website were entirely appropriate and that the contents are fair, accurate, balanced and are not misleading and provides appropriate hepatitis C disease education information. Code Committee decision In a majority decision no breach of Sections 1.1, 1.3, 12.6, 12.8 and 18 of the Code was found. In a unanimous decision no breach of Sections 12.7 and Consideration of the complaint The Committee was advised that this complaint was forwarded to Medicines Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Medicines Australia Secretariat staff used Dr Short s complaint to the TGA to select the areas of the Code of Conduct to be answered in the complaint. The Committee acknowledged the Sections under consideration were broad. The Committee suggested to the Medicines Australia Secretariat that they consider offering the facilities of an independent facilitator to all complainants where a complaint is referred by the TGA. The Committee discussed whether this advertisement was overly emotional in tone. The Committee considered the language used in the advertisement was in context and was used as common practice by the consumer groups representing the effected community. One member of the Committee felt that the use of the term beat was of main concern as it may be offensive to patients in the target audience who have failed treatment and giving the impression that by not beating the disease through treatment they are to be considered failures. The Committee felt that the target audience of this advertisement are those who have not yet received treatment, and is to encourage them to seek treatment. The Committee noted that the messages in the campaign are to raise awareness of the disease and focusing on increasing the number of people seeking treatment for the disease. The majority of the Committee agreed that the messages were balanced and were in line with Government Health Policy on Hepatitis C. The Committee agreed that taken in isolation the individual statements could be construed as overly emotive and unbalanced. However when taken in context as a whole campaign, the tone of the messages was in line with the Code of Conduct requirements. The Committee suggests that Roche consider adding a qualifier to the 2

3 statement I beat HepC for my family to provide context and clarity to the reader. The Committee considered the complaint relating to the statement Ask your doctor for a referral for Hepatitis C and noted that it is not technically incorrect, as patients receive a referral from a General Practitioner for a specialist clinician or clinic. The Committee acknowledged that the treatment of Hepatitis C can only be conducted through a Liver Clinic or in consultation with a Liver Specialist and that a referral for these services need to be provided after an initial consultation with a general practitioner. Therefore, the Committee agreed that there is no breach of the Code in this instance, but suggests that Roche could clarify the statement to read Ask your doctor for a referral for a Liver Specialist or Liver Clinic. Decision The Committee determined in a majority decision that the Beat Hep C advertisements were not in breach of Sections 1.1, 1.3, 12.6, 12.8 and 18 of the Code. Further, the Committee determined in a unanimous decision that there was no breach of Sections 12.7 and

4 Movectro 1070 Subject Company: Merck Serono Complainant: A member of the General Public Product: Movectro Complaint The Complainant submitted a complaint to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) on 3 February 2011 that alleges that a piece aired on the Channel 7 nightly news program on 22 October 2010 was promoting the product directly to the General Public. The piece can also be found on and linked on the CCSVI Facebook Page ( and therefore accessible by members of the general public at any time. The complaint was forwarded by the TGA to Medicines Australia for adjudication. Additionally, the Complainant alleges the piece to be misleading and unbalanced as it only highlighted the positive attributes of the product without providing any negative aspects or potential side effects. Sections of the Code Advertisements alleged to be in breach of the following Sections of Edition 16 of the Code: 12.1 General principles 12.3 Promotion to the general public 12.4 Product specific media releases 12.5 General media articles 12.6 Educational information to the general public 12.7 Disease education activities in any media 18 Discredit to an reduction of confidence in the industry Response Merck Serono outlined that they had engaged a PR Agency to undertake a media campaign for health professionals in relation to this product. They advise that the news item was prepared by Channel 7 independently of Merck Serono, and that any information provided to the PR Agency to prepare the health professional media campaign did not contain any promotional statements, claims or comparisons. Code Committee decision In a unanimous decision the Code Committee found the advertisement to be in breach of Sections 12.1, 12.3, 12.5, 12.6 and 12.7 of the Code. Additionally, the Code Committee found by unanimous decision that there was no breach of Section 12.4 and by majority decision no breach of Section 18. Sanction Pay a fine of $75,000 Appeal Merck Serono lodged an appeal against the Code Committee s decisions in relation to its finding breaches of Sections 12.1, 12.3, 12.5, 12.6 and 12.7 of the Code. Merck Serono stated in its written appeal that there was no promotion of a prescription product to the general public by Merck Serono or its Agent. It did not initiate any general media article concerning Movectro and did not attempt to encourage any publication or general media with the aim of promoting the product. Merck Serono s Agent directed Channel 7 journalist to contact MS Research Australia. Merck Serono had no knowledge of the content of the news item before it went to air and was only notified of the possibility of a news story one day before it went to air. The company had no editorial rights over the information broadcast by Channel 7. Response to the Appeal The Complainant declined to make a written response to Merck Serono s appeal or appear in person at the Appeal meeting. However the Complainant asked that the Committee note that the Complainant was not responsible for posting the news item on the CCSVI Australia website. Consideration of the Appeal The Chairman advised the committee that the Complainant had elected not to appear before the Committee to respond to the appeal and had provided no written response. The following summarises Merck Serono s appeal presentation: Merck Serono has been associated with the multiple sclerosis (MS) community for 10 years and is committed to compliance and working within the Code of Conduct. Merck Serono acknowledged that they hadn t provided the Code Committee with sufficient information to adequately adjudicate the complaint and therefore took the opportunity to appeal in order to bring that information to the Appeals Committee s attention. Merck Serono, like other companies, will not be informed by media editors or journalists about information they have obtained from a range of sources and the company has no editorial control over a news broadcast. The material provided by Merck Serono to its Agent, was fair and balanced and this had been acknowledged by the Code Committee as recorded in the minutes. 4

5 Merck Serono contended that the Code Committee was misinformed with respect to the timeline of events leading up to the news item broadcast. Merck Serono had become aware of the possibility of a story being aired by Channel 7 only 1 day prior to it being aired. Merck Serono provided a timeline of events leading up to the story being aired: 15 October 2010: Journalist s initial enquiry to a representative of Merck Serono s PR Agency at a social function October 2010: PR Agency contacted the journalist to ascertain if Channel 7 were planning a news item. Channel 7 advised the Agency that they are unable to confirm. 21 October 2010: Journalist/Channel 7 confirmed to the Agency that a news item is planned. Channel 7 did not indicate potential dates for screening. At this point, the journalist requested to speak with an expert in MS, and the Agency referred them to MS Research Australia (MSRA). 22 October 2010: Channel 7 interviewed MSRA experts, and the news item was edited and aired during that evening s news bulletin. Merck Serono advised the Appeals Committee that it was informed through its Agent of interest from a journalist, but the Agency had not been given any confirmation that a news story would be aired, nor did they know its contents before it was aired. Merck Serono asserted that Channel 7 had sourced their story independently. Merck Serono noted the Code Committee s comments pertaining to the company s failure to try to prevent the news item from being broadcast or change its content. Merck Serono challenged this view, because it would not have been possible to prevent the story from being aired, as it was sourced independently by a Channel 7 journalist. Merck Serono argued that, through its Agent, they had taken appropriate steps to ensure the information provided to Channel 7 was balanced and accurate. The company has been advised by its lawyers that it had no legal grounds to demand that a media organisation provide it with any proposed news item prior to it being aired, and particularly when the company had no knowledge of the content of the media segment or any grounds to say that it was not accurate or balanced. Merck Serono considered that it was unreasonable for the Code Committee to conclude that it was in a position to alter the news story prior to it being broadcast. Merck Serono reiterated to the Appeals Committee that it had taken no steps to post the segment on websites, and only became aware of its posting after MSRA brought it to its attention. Merck Serono contended that it cannot be held responsible for the actions of the Complainant or others in re-broadcasting the media segment on the public CCSVI Australia Facebook page. The segment does not appear to have been published on YouTube. Merck Serono responded to each of the findings of breach by the Code Committee: 12.1 General principles there was no promotion of a prescription product to the general public by Merck Serono or its Agent. Nor did it engage in any activity that would bring discredit to the industry Promotion to the general public information about the product that was provided by Merck Serono to its Agent was educational, accurate and balanced. Merck Serono did not engage in any activity directed at the general public which encouraged a patient to seek a prescription General Media articles Merck Serono did not initiate any general media article concerning the product. Neither the company nor its Agent attempted to publish a general media article. The Agent had directed the journalist to independent sources for further information 12.6 Educational information to the general public the Code Committee had acknowledged that the written information provided to its Agent was presented in a fair and balanced manner. The information provided by its Agent to the journalist was not in any way promotional Disease education activities in any media any alleged disease education in the news item was provided by MSRA representatives. Merck Serono was not informed of the content of the news item or who may be interviewed. Merck Serono responded to a number of statements in the original complaint: The complainant referred to the item as an advertisement Response: The item was a news story, which was initiated by Channel 7; it was not an advertisement and no inducement was provided to Channel 7 to broadcast the story The complainant referred to the drug being spruiked by individuals representing MSRA and MS Australia Response: The interviewees were a professor who is a leading authority on MS, and who did not refer to any particular medication. The individual from MS Australia was identified by Channel 7 independently through contact with MS Australia 5

6 The Complainant had commented that there are side effects from the medicine which were not mentioned in the news item Response: The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) had reviewed all data prior to approving Movectro in Australia. There has been no causal relationship established between Movectro and malignancy, but the Product Information recommends monitoring patients closely due to the mode of action of the medicine. The Complainant stated that Movectro has been refused marketing approval in North America and Europe. Response: Decisions by the US FDA and EU advisory committee were issued three to five months after the news item was aired. Merck Serono cannot be responsible for information about events which have not yet occurred. The Complainant stated that Merck Serono s financial support for MSRA was not mentioned in the news item. Response: Merck Serono has provided some limited financial support to MSRA, including for work that was co-sponsored by three other industry partners. MSRA remains an independent organisation and is under no obligation to recommend any product. The Complainant argued that the reporting of Movectro by Channel 7 was biased and only mentioned the advantages of the product and therefore must be an advertisement. Response: Merck Serono reiterated that this was an independently sourced news item; it was not initiated by Merck Serono and it had no opportunity to view the item prior to broadcast. Merck Serono concluded their presentation stating: It had no opportunity to review the news item prior to it being broadcast. It was informed that a story was planned one day prior to the broadcast but had received no indication of the date or time of broadcast Merck Serono s Agent was briefed to only use the material that had been provided by the company, which has been found by the Code Committee to be fair and balanced, and to refer any other queries to independent sources such as the TGA or MSRA. Neither the company nor its Agent took any steps to post the news item on Facebook or YouTube (and the item cannot be found on YouTube). The Code Committee appeared to have taken the availability of the item in the social media into account when making its decisions and determining the sanction. Merck Serono should not be held responsible for the actions by the Complainant or others in re-publishing the news item. The Code Committee had made its decisions based on unintentionally incomplete information originally provided by Merck Serono in its response to the complaint. The Appeals Committee questioned Merck Serono on the TGA approval date for Movectro. Merck Serono advised the Committee that it was first approved by the TGA for MS on 2 September The Appeals Committee asked what further information was provided to its Agent with the briefing document that was included in the agenda papers. Merck Serono advised that the briefing document was created by the company and its Agent through a series of meetings. The only other document that the Agent was approved to distribute was the Product Information. The briefing document was intended for the purpose of developing a media release for healthcare professional media only, and not for communication with the general media. Merck Serono advised that it did not create a similar document for the general media, as it was not their intention to engage the general media on this product. In answer to a question from the Committee about the lack of any information in the briefing document about the product s side effects, Merck Serono responded that this was included in the PI, which would have been provided with the briefing document. The Appeals Committee noted that the Channel 7 news item focussed on the availability of the first ever tablet for MS, which appears in the briefing document given to Merck Serono s Agent. Merck Serono assured the Appeals Committee that it was not their intention to use this document with general media, and that information regarding the availability of an oral treatment for MS would be available in many publically available documents. The MS community had been aware for some time that an oral treatment would soon be available, and MS Australia and MSRA would be aware of this. Merck Serono advised the Committee that it had not produced any briefing materials for the general media because it understood that if it had done so it would be at risk of being accused of promoting the product to the general public. The Agency is well informed about the Code requirements. The Agent had been instructed to refer any enquiries from the general media to independent sources such as the TGA and MSRA. The Committee noted the statements in the letter from the Agent to the Secretary of the Code Committee that the Agency had contacted the Channel 7 journalist, provided information about the registration and PBS listing status and had followed up with the journalist after that conversation to ask if a news story was planned. The Agent had referred the journalist to MSRA and other MS experts. The Chairman noted that 6

7 an alternative approach would have been for Merck Serono s Agent not to have contacted the journalist or not to have made any comment. The Chairman thanked the Merck Serono representatives for their presentation. The Merck Serono representatives then left the meeting to allow the Appeals Committee to consider its decision. The Appeals Committee discussed the briefing document provided to the Agent by Merck Serono and how it had been used during interactions with the Channel 7 journalist. The Appeals Committee agreed it was likely that the use of this document went beyond its original purpose of being solely for use with the professional media. The Appeals Committee did not agree with the Code Committee that this briefing document was fair and balanced. It included statements about the positive attributes of Movectro, but did not include any balancing information about precautions, interactions or side effects. Whilst not subject to any complaint in this instance, the Appeals Committee did not consider that the briefing document would meet the requirements of the Code in relation to media statements for the health professional media (Section 2.8). The Appeals Committee cautioned Merck Serono that any future briefing documents should contain balanced information about a product s precautions and side effects. The clinical expert advised other Committee members that the MS community is active and well informed. Movectro had been approved one month prior to the news item and there was considerable interest in the availability of an oral treatment at that time. The Committee agreed that community interest does not mean that it is acceptable for a company or its agent to provide promotional information about a prescription medicine to the general media. The Appeals Committee discussed at length what role Merck Serono and its Agent had in the resulting news story. The Appeals Committee considered that the story was clearly promotional about Movectro. Both Merck Serono and its Agent, in its letter to Medicines Australia, acknowledged that the Agent had contacted Channel 7 following the initial enquiry from the journalist at a social event. There was no firm evidence provided by Merck Serono or the Agent of precisely what was said to the Channel 7 journalist or what written information was provided. The Appeals Committee agreed with the Code Committee that it was inappropriate for the Agency representative to have pursued communication with the Channel 7 journalist. By its own admission, Merck Serono did not expect to be able to stop the story going to air or to edit its content. The Committee questioned Merck Serono s Agent s intent of contacting the journalist on more than one occasion following the initial inquiry at a social event. It was noted that Merck Serono stated that it had instructed its Agent not to engage with the general media. The briefing document on Movectro apparently formed the basis for the discussion between the Agency and the Channel 7 journalist. The Appeals Committee acknowledged that Channel 7 may have obtained information for the story independent of Merck Serono s Agent, but the primary topic of the news item was the availability of a new oral MS treatment, which is the same thrust as the briefing document. The Appeals Committee reviewed a letter from the Executive Director of MS Research Australia to the Code of Conduct Secretary, dated 16 May MSRA advised that it was approached by Merck Serono s Agent and asked to assist with proposed interviews with Channel 7. Merck Serono s Agent evidently was involved in liaising between Channel 7 and MSRA. The Appeals Committee did not question the independence of the opinions expressed by the MSRA and MS Australia in their interviews, but it appeared from the MSRA letter that the Agency had a greater role than simply referring the journalist to MSRA. The Appeals Committee disagreed with Merck Serono s statements that it could not develop appropriate information for the general public when a new product becomes available. Whilst the focus should appropriately be on the professional media, there is always the potential for interest from general media in these activities. An appropriate, non-promotional document could be developed to respond to enquiries from the general media. The Appeals Committee discussed the posting of the news item on CCSVI Australia s Facebook page and the allegedly negative commentary about Merck Serono on that site. The Appeals Committee did not review the commentary and determined that it would not be considered as part of the decision making process. The Appeals Committee acknowledged that there remained a degree of uncertainty about the involvement of Merck Serono s Agent in this activity. However, based on the information provided by the company, the Agency and MSRA, on balance the Appeals Committee concluded that Merck Serono had some responsibility for the broadcast of the news item that promoted the benefits of Movectro. While accepting that Merck Serono could not prevent the publication of the segment by Channel 7, Merck Serono s Agent s communication to 7

8 Channel 7, on more than one occasion, and its suspected use of the briefing document intended for a health professional audience was not consistent with the requirements of Section 12.5 of the Code, General media articles, and resulted in Merck Serono having a degree of responsibility for the outcome. The Appeals Committee unanimously upheld the decision of the Code Committee in finding a breach of Section 12.5 of the Code. The Appeals Committee considered the other breaches found by the Code Committee. The Appeals Committee agreed that Merck Serono should have more fully responded to the complaint to the Code Committee. In relation to Sections 12.6 and 12.7, the Appeals Committee concluded that Merck Serono had not published any educational information for the general public and had not engaged in a disease education activity. The Appeals Committee did not consider that these provisions were relevant to the conduct in question and unanimously found no breach of the Code, reversing the decision of the Code Committee. In relation to Sections 12.1 and 12.3 of the Code, a majority of members did not consider that Merck Serono had engaged in an activity that directly promoted their product to the general product. The Appeals Committee considered that the activity complained of was most appropriately covered by Section 12.5 of the Code. In a majority decision, the Committee reversed the decision of the Code Committee and found no breach of Sections 12.1 and 12.3 of the Code. Sanction The Appeals Committee considered the sanction imposed by the Code Committee. Having reversed some of the decisions of the Code Committee the Appeals Committee determined to reduce the fine to $20,000. Appeal Bond Having upheld decision of the Code Committee to find a breach of the Code, the Appeals Committee determined that the bond should be retained by Medicines Australia. 8

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